For the second consecutive week, the Dallas Cowboys played football on Thursday, meaning that we get to have a special edition of Takeaway Tuesday, on Saturday. Also, for the first time in four weeks, we've got victory takeaways. How 'bout them Cowboys!
The Washington Redskins are slowly forgetting how it feels to beat the Cowboys, after they were defeated last Thursday with a 38-14 scoreboard. Just when all Cowboys fans were throwing in the towel, Garrett's team gave us a tiny bit of hope.
Obviously, the road ahead is not easy. However, this Cowboys team showed us a few things that are pretty promising. Here are this week's takeaways!
Chidobe Awuzie Will Be Good
Finally, we got to see Chidobe Awuzie play football. After Anthony Brown was demoted, Awuzie got to start at left cornerback and he did a remarkable job versus the Redskins. We all wanted to see good things out of the second-round pick who's been dealing with a hamstring injury all year.
Well, we got something. Awuzie was amazing and he proved that he should remain the starter going forward.
Awuzie got to play in more than 88% of the defensive snaps, per Pro Football Reference. Although his stats aren't off the charts, his coverage was amazing and we should give him a lot of credit for what seemed like an improvement in the secondary.
I like the idea of a Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie CB duo for the future, and I bet receivers won't be happy to know they'll be facing these two guys in years to come.
Cowboys' Running Game Is Back
A big reason why the Cowboys were losing games, is the absence of Ezekiel Elliott. Truth be told, it really was starting to feel like we had overrated the back-up RB committee that Dallas has.
DMC was ultimately cut, and between Alfred Morris and Rod Smith, things weren't going as planned. But for the first time without Zeke, the Cowboys were able to put together a solid running game.
Since the suspension began, I've been one of those guys who wants Rod Smith to get more and more carries. However, right now, Morris complicated things for Jaylon's brother. I still wish Smith gets more carries and a chance to shine as Zeke's future back-up, but Morris made his case this Thursday and there's no reason to expect a change at RB anytime soon.
Naturally, the offensive line deserves a lot of credit for taking it to another level and dominating Washington's front seven play after play. This might've been La'el Collins and Tyron Smith's best games of the season.
Kavon Frazier Could Become a Constant Contributor
Kavon Frazier has been outstanding on special teams all season long, and his name has stood out a couple of times. But last Thursday, Frazier shined on defense as well. He was only on the field for 21 defensive snaps, but he clearly made a difference more than a few times.
This coaching staff probably saw the same thing we did, and that's Frazier balling out.
I wonder if the Cowboys will be willing to give him a chance during future games to prove himself. What if he actually does a good job at safety and he gives a player like Byron Jones the opportunity to play at CB and improve the secondary?
At the very least, Frazier will continue to be one of the team's most valuable players on special teams.
Anthony Hitchens Is a Very Good LB
The Cowboys' defense has clearly suffered every game missed by Sean Lee. However, Anthony Hitchens himself has become into another great football player for the Dallas Cowboys.
Yeah, Lee is out, but without Hitchens I can guarantee to you, that it could've been worse. Hitchens has done a nice job holding this defense together and I expect him to continue doing do.
This is the last year on Hitchens' contract and I'd be astonished if the front office doesn't re-sing him in the offseason. Dallas could have a very special group of guys with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Anthony Hitchens and possibly, a LB taken in the first rounds of the 2018 NFL Draft.
Cowboys Got The Confidence Boost They Needed
The Cowboys' road to the playoffs is more than tough. They put themselves in a position where it isn't only up to them, but some other teams have to lose to keep their hopes alive. However, perspective changes when you stop getting blown out every game.
Dak Prescott and company have a unique chance to take advantage of the confidence boost they got in this week's game. Next time they take the field, they'll be taking on a Giants team that will probably be playing a QB not named "Eli Manning."
The Cowboys do have tough games versus the Raiders, the Seahawks and possibly the Eagles (even though they might be playing with back-ups only when the time comes around in week 17).
But, for now, let's focus on getting four wins in four weeks. Hope dies last... let's go Cowboys!
Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys season still feels like a landmark in the rich history of this team. Going deeper into Cowboys annuls is nothing more than a hopeless drift through wasted time that all of us are guilty of, though looking ahead at the 2018 team also leaves just distant memories of 2014.
Perhaps it was the memorable and painful way this season ended, with Dez Bryant's catch in the divisional playoffs at the Packers being played on loop ever since. This clip has surely overshadowed the way Dallas clinched the NFC East in 2014, with a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys find themselves in a similar position Sunday, beginning a stretch of three straight "win and you're in" games. The NFC East will belong to the once 3-5 Cowboys with a win over the Colts, Buccaneers, or Giants.
In that 42-7 drubbing of the Colts four years ago, Tony Romo threw three first half touchdowns to three different targets. At halftime, the Cowboys were on their way with a 28-0 lead, jumping out to a 42-0 advantage before Matt Hasselbeck would throw a garbage time touchdown (yeah, I feel old writing that too).
Just like in this match up, the Cowboys are fresh off a win over the Eagles, as they were in 2014 before rolling to the division title. Four starters from Jason Garrett's first NFC East clincher remain on his roster, though only two will play, speaking to the strides Garrett has made to salvage his reputation this year.
The 2014 Cowboys established themselves as the run-first team that's very much still in tact thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. Only Giants rookie Saquon Barkey has more rushing yards over the last five weeks than Elliott. While Barkley continues to impress for a team that will not make the playoffs, Elliott is carrying the Cowboys closer to the postseason with every carry.
Unlike 2014, the path out of the Cowboys backfield to the top of the division hasn't been as straight. The '14 Cowboys featured a veteran lineup on both sides of the ball, focused on weekly improvements yielding a 12-4 record.
The only time the Cowboys have won more games under Garrett was in 2016, where the Cowboys altered the future of the franchise again with a new-look team that went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to Green Bay again.
Neither 12 or 13 wins is attainable this year for the Cowboys, but the best of both recent divisional championship seasons is. Wins over the Saints and Eagles have brought back the miraculous 2016 feel Quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season brought to Dallas. For going through both that season together, as well as a nine win campaign in 2017 that serves as Prescott's "down year", the Cowboys staffers that remember 2014 should be nostalgic at kickoff Sunday.
With the NFL being such a week-by-week, day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute experience, taking the chance to add perspective whenever possible is refreshing. The Cowboys arrival as perennial contenders in 2014 can come full circle with a new cast of players and familiar coaching staff here in week 15.
Remember just how much this team has been through to reach this point the next time you call for sweeping changes to America's Team, and if you're feeling lucky, a prop bet on Garrett having blue Gatorade dumped on him before night's end could go a long way.
Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around
The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.
We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."
Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard
As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.
Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.
Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak
455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.
This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.
It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career: take care of the ball.
Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around
Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.
It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.
For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.
Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up
The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.
In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
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